Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
What, then, are the elements of a diplomatic tradition of international thought? As noted above, identifying them is difficult because the balance between thinkers and doers within it has been historically skewed towards the latter. There exists no great canon of diplomatic thought about international relations with its broadly settled structure of knowledge, and familiar pathways for debate and argument. As a consequence, the task of recovering such a tradition involves an even greater exercise of the imagination and creative faculties than usual. It is made even more difficult by the fundamental disagreements that exist among those who study diplomacy and diplomats about what they should be studying. We can find an uneasy consensus around the idea that diplomacy is whatever diplomats do, but it quickly falls apart again around the question of who are the diplomats. Are we to stick with the modern diplomacy's narrow insistence that only states are entitled to diplomatic representation or are we to adopt the sort of broader approach to which a flood of new hyphenated diplomacies – public, field, track two and, even, internal – attests?
In the quest for a diplomatic tradition of international thought, one can start with either, so long as one does not ignore the other. Here, however, I will adopt the broad conception of diplomacy because my intention is to tease out when it is that people begin to recognize aspects of their relations as diplomatic, why they do so, and with what consequences.